Free meds: Grocery chain helping to combat high blood pressure

It’s sometimes called “the silent killer” because it rarely gives any warning signs or symptoms, but high blood pressure or hypertension figured into more than 348,000 American deaths in 2009-about 1,000 deaths each day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reports that high BP increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure and kidney disease.

“One in three adults have high blood pressure in the U.S., that’s 67 million people,” said Amy Puntureri, a pharmacist with Giant Eagle stores based in Pittsburgh.

Approximately half of those folks are able to keep their hypertension under control, many through the use of prescribed medications.

Last week Giant Eagle officials announced the chain would be the first retailer of its kind to offer for free the two most-prescribed BP meds, Lisinopril and Lisinopril HCTZ.

“The medication comes in those two different strengths, and we picked them as the most-prescribed in order to be able to serve more people with this offer,” Puntureri said.

Up to 90 tablets of Lisinopril or Lisinopril HCTZ will be made available for free with qualifying prescriptions at all 215 Giant Eagle pharmacy locations in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, including the Marietta store.

Puntureri said all that’s required is for blood pressure patients to have a valid new or refill prescription from their physician to receive the free meds.

“And this is not a one-time offer, it’s for an indefinite period of time,” she added, noting up to 90 free pills will be available every time a prescription is filled.

Company officials say the offer is the most generous free blood pressure medication program in the country, and Giant Eagle is the first area retailer to provide the free meds across its footprint.

“This is really part of our ongoing goal to help customers improve their health care,” said Dan Donovan, corporate spokesman for Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh.

He said the company only knows of one other retailer in the U.S. that is offering a similar free blood pressure medication program.

Publix Super Markets, headquartered in Lakeland, Fla., also advertises a free BP med program.

“But we really weren’t looking at trends or what other stores have done, the company is just looking out for our customers’ needs,” Donovan said.

He noted that Giant Eagle already offers free pre-natal vitamins and free generic antibiotics, as well as maintains a $4 and $10 generic prescription program.

Walmart stores began offering 1 cent prescriptions for hypertension in 2013, but only for customers taking part in the company’s co-branded Medicare Part D plan with Humana.

Puntureri emphasized that the Giant Eagle program is for all customers with qualified prescriptions for the Lisinopril medications.